July 27, 2007 - Anybody who's played the most excellent Desert Conflict modification for BF1942 will be excited by the upcoming Frontlines: Fuel of War, which is being developed by the same team, KAOS Studios. One of the highlights of DC was its explosive vehicular combat, a feature that is sure to cross over into the studio's new title.
We had a chinwag with Brian Holinka, the Lead Technical Designer on Frontlines: Fuel of War, to dig into the vehicles in the game.
IGN AU: Can you give us an overview of some of the cooler vehicles in the game, and which real world vehicles are they derived from? Do these vehicles have any special features?
Brian Holinka: While all of the vehicles in Frontlines each have their own unique features, one of the most novel vehicles in the game is the Western Coalition's M4 Powell. While the Powell's design was inspired by the US Army's Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, we added a number of "cool" elements to it. Tech-wise, it's probably the most sophisticated vehicle in the game. Its mission is to roll into an area of conflict and dominate defensively. The primary position has a 25 mm auto cannon for mowing down infantry in the open and a 130mm wire-guided missile for destroying soldiers in covered positions. But the real power in the Powell is the second position. The second position operates the Powell's missile defense system, an independent remote control turret that destroys incoming missiles on sight. The second position also operates a 150mm anti-tank missile that, when fired, flies immediately skyward then alters its flight path to devastate the target. While its relatively slow speed prevents it from responding to needs elsewhere or performing the hit-and-run tactics of its Red Star counter-parts, the Powell has a strong defensive presence for holding territory.
IGN AU: You've said in the past that having two players in a vehicle will make them much more lethal. How so?
Brian Holinka: It was important to us to offer greater incentive to players to work together in the vehicles. In addition to the Powell's features, nearly all armoured vehicles incorporate a shared targeting system, allowing players to mark targets for other passengers. This makes it really easy for a second position to "watch the back" of the vehicle and relay the threat to his team mate with the simple click of a button. This is really effective when a main battle tank is rolling into a hostile capture area. Often times, enemy infantry set up traps ready to spring once a vehicle is looking the other way. With the shared targeting system, a vehicle with two team mates has twice the awareness and is a lot harder to surprise.
IGN AU: Do the vehicles have different armour levels depending on the side they're shot from? Does the angle of a shot hitting the armour make a difference?
Brian Holinka: Vehicles do have different armour levels throughout their chassis. For instance, a tank is far more susceptible to attacks from the rear and side than the front. This brings the important element of manoeuvre to all vehicle-on-vehicle and infantry-on-vehicle combat. For tanks, while it's important to see your enemy first, with clever driving you can make up ground on your opponents when you get behind them.
IGN AU: How would you describe the handling of the vehicles? For example, in Desert Combat the choppers took a lot of practice to master, whereas later games such as BF2 and BF2142 took a lot of the skill out of this? If you're aiming for more accessible handling, is there a possibility of a "hardcore handling" server setting to make them more difficult? Feel free to implement that idea in the game if you like ;)
Brian Holinka: Our standard for vehicle gameplay is Desert Combat. Our mantra is "Easy to learn, hard to master." This is especially evident in our flying vehicles. We know that people take pride in learning to become expert pilots. So, we're making efforts to cater that while not discouraging less skilled players from trying the vehicles out. For example, when you enter a helicopter you can perform very standard movements, and the controls are fairly forgiving. When you toggle on the powerband, the vehicles become instantly faster, more responsive, and tougher to control. With the powerband, skilled pilots will be able to perform advanced manoeuvres and their skill level will be very obvious to other players.
IGN AU: The AC-130 in Desert Combat is, without doubt, the most enjoyable vehicle we've ever used in a video game. Yet in Frontlines, the player doesn't have control of the orbiting gunship (I believe it's based on the Osprey)? Why did you make this choice, and is there any chance of an AC-130-like vehicle in Frontlines? We'll pay extra if you put it in!
Brian Holinka: The AC-130 was a fantastic element of Desert Combat and fit perfectly for that style of gameplay. The battles in Desert Combat were a lot more dispersed and widespread than Frontlines. For this game, we wanted to really bring the combat to a hectic, fast-paced level and that meant focusing people on the area of direct conflict. Unfortunately, this would give a bunch of guys in an AC-130 a very easy time of it. They'd have far less targets to choose from than Desert Combat and they'd be far more effective. It would be very over-powered. Instead we chose to place the person wielding this firepower in harm's way with everyone else. They are in the battle and though they can unleash hellfire from above, they also run the risk of exposing themselves to all the elements of people who choose other more infantry-based roles. In the end, it makes the overall experience a lot more fun.
IGN AU: In games like BF2, vehicular combat was still limited to relatively close range due to the fogging of the graphics engine. In Frontlines, will it be possible to start taking pot-shots at enemy tanks from further away? If so, how far - 500 yards, a mile, two miles?
Brian Holinka: In modern day warfare, a large part of combat occurs without even seeing your enemy. I don't know how well that relays into a video game. Of course, our game basically lets you hit anything you can see, and you can see quite far. But fighting from a mile way was not something we designed the game to be about. It's more about in-your-face destruction and combat.
IGN AU: How do you balance out the various vehicles so that infantry aren't just cannon-fodder? Will most infantry classes be able to affect vehicles?
Brian Holinka: Vehicles versus infantry combat is a tricky thing to get right. While we don't want infantry soldiers to be helpless against tanks and helicopters, we do have to keep in mind that they are tanks and helicopters. The most obvious thing we have to work with in this relationship is that there are far more infantry than vehicles. Vehicles, due to their size, are almost always exposed to the enemy for attack. So, we've given the infantry a number of tools to destroy vehicles (or render them useless) but they really need to be in groups to do it. It is quite difficult for one soldier alone to destroy a vehicle, but if they're clever or they work together it's possible.
IGN AU: How realistic are the physics that apply to vehicles?
Brian Holinka: They are super realistic. Before we started programming the vehicles, we actually built real models of each of them and drove them around. Every now and then we take footage of the vehicles and compare them to what we see on the screen. I actually drive the Red Star Main Battle Tank to work each day.
On a more serious and far less sarcastic note, the vehicles are meant to be fun first, realistic second. So, we shoot for realism until it gets in the way of fun... and sometimes we just think a lot of unrealistic things are really fun. We want the player to feel immersed and that either means making him feel like he's actually driving the vehicle or having so much damn fun he doesn't even care. As long as that suspension of disbelief remains, we're satisfied. So, people who seek out games with 100% realism will be disappointed while people who prefer their games to be 110% fun will be really pleased.
IGN AU: Were there any vehicles that you wanted to implement but got scrapped? Any chance they'll be released later as downloadable content?
Brian Holinka: If a vehicle wasn't included, we either felt it didn't work with the balance and feel of the game, or we just felt like Frontlines: Fuel of War wasn't the right time to include it. Of course, we have a lot of exciting ideas (probably more than we have time for) that you'll see in future KAOS projects.
IGN AU: Do the vehicle's camouflage patterns vary depending on the map? Are there any other cool graphical features on the vehicles (animated radar domes, great dust effects, deformable chassis, etc)?
Brian Holinka: Though the camouflage patterns are the same for each map, one of the important things we wanted to do with vehicles is make them feel more alive to the player, particularly when they get in. When you enter a tank, we want the world to tremble in front of you, so we shake all the players around you as you rumble by. When that cannon fires, besides hearing a really powerful sound, the ground kicks up dust and the force of the blast moves the tank a bit. When you enter the Western Coalition Attack Helicopter, the wings deploy from its chassis and rocket pods roll out along them. Every time you get in a vehicle, it's like a dog showing its teeth. You're essentially changing your avatar from a soldier to a vehicle at that point, so we want that transformation to feel more empowering.